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Child Life Services

Child Life Specialists are health professionals who assist children and adolescents and their families as they prepare for and cope with pediatric medical and emotional experiences such as surgery, hospitalization, tests and procedures. We’ve discovered that when children understand what is happening to them, they cope more effectively and experience less psychological trauma and anxiety. Our Child Life Specialists are trained in child development, child life, education and psychology.

Child Life Specialists assist pediatric patients and families at Cleveland Clinic’s Main Campus, Fairview Hospital and Hillcrest Hospital.

Child Life Services Details

Child Life Specialists use a variety of techniques to help young patients understand and cope with their medical experiences. Our services are provided at no charge to pediatric patients and their families. During your child's stay, you and your child have access to a wide range of activities.

Pediatric patients and parents may seek our Child Life Specialists to provide guidance for some of the following medical experiences:

  • Behavioral modification programs to encourage success with a new medical regimen
  • Chronic Illness
  • Emotional support provided during your child’s medical procedure(s)
  • Preparing your child for surgery, specific tests or procedures
  • Providing education for a new diagnosis tailored to your child’s developmental age/level
  • Providing support to siblings and other family members
  • Traumatic accident

The Child Life Department recognizes that hospitalization and illness can be a stressful and scary time for both pediatric patients and their families. Child Life Specialists work alongside the medical staff to help children and families understand and manage healthcare experiences.

Child Life Specialists are highly trained, skilled professionals.

  • Each has a bachelor’s or master’s degree, with an educational emphasis on human growth and development, education, psychology, or a related field of study.
  • All Certified Child Life Specialists must complete a supervised 480-hour clinical internship, pass an examination, and adhere to a minimum standard for continued professional development.
  • They adhere to a code of ethics and standards established by the Child Life Council, a national organization which administers the process for obtaining the Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) credential.

Pediatric Tools For Coping

Child Life Specialists help infants, children, and teens cope with stress and anxiety associated with a healthcare experience. We ease fears and concerns by providing opportunities for developmentally appropriate play and interaction, therapeutic play, and psychological preparation in the following clinical areas.

  • Emergency Department (Hillcrest & Fairview hospitals only)
  • Inpatient Units
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs)
  • Outpatient Clinics (select clinics - main campus only)
  • Radiology
  • Surgery

Children’s Playroom

The Playroom is a designated “safe” area for pediatric patients and families where they can play, learn, socialize, and forget about the worries of hospital life.

The Playroom is a “medical free” zone: no medical procedures or discussions are allowed to take place without the child’s permission.

The Playroom has toys, books, art and craft materials, movies and video games for patients and families use. If pediatric patients are unable to visit the playroom, these items are available for use at bedside.

Child Life interventions are determined on an individual basis and may include:

  • Pediatric Medical Preparation and Pre-Surgery Teaching. Provide age appropriate medical and pre-surgery teaching to help alleviate a child’s fears, anxiety or misconceptions.
  • Support During Procedures. Help reduce pain and anxiety during medical procedures by using techniques such as distraction, guided imagery and relaxation exercises.
  • Therapeutic Play Activities. Specialists provide therapeutic play activities to help normalize the hospital environment. Therapeutic play activities can occur at bedside or in the playroom.
  • Medical Play. Medical play is provided to help children become more comfortable with medical equipment and the hospital.
  • Diversional Activities. Toys, art and craft activities, board games, reading books, movies and video games are available for use in the playroom or at bedside.
  • Expressive therapies. Art Therapists and Music Therapists are on staff to help your child “work through” their hospital experience.
  • Support for Brothers and Sisters. Specialists are available to help siblings understand what is happening and how to work through their feelings and concerns regarding their brother or sister.
  • Pet Therapy. During your stay at the Children’s Hospital, you may receive a visit from one of our cuddly canines! Please make your nurse aware if a visit is permissible

Main Campus

  • Shannon Sonnhalter, CCLS – Child Life Manager, Main campus
  • Andrea Rapport, CCLS – Cardiology
  • Lindsay Kramer, CCLS – Cole Eye Institute
  • Kristin Miller, CCLS – General Medicine/NICU
  • Diana Swinehart, CCLS – General Medicine/NICU
  • Sarah Thompson, CCLS – Inpatient Hematology/Oncology, Bone Marrow Transplant
  • Tom Richards, CCLS – Outpatient Hematology/Oncology, Epilepsy Monitoring Unit
  • Meridith Misich, CCLS – PICU
  • Molly Gross, CCLS – Radiology
  • Ashley Wood, CCLS – Radiology
  • Cathy Young, CCLS – Surgery

Fairview Hospital

  • Sandra Criswell, CCLS – Child Life Coordinator
  • Patty Cotter, CCLS
  • Katie Eureka, CCLS
  • Lisa Izzo, CLS
  • Debbie Kosakowski, CCLS
  • Brittany McLean, CCLS
  • Stephanie Kurtz, CCLS
  • Avni Sahgal, CCLS
  • Jessica Timms, CCLS

Hillcrest Hospital

  • Shannon Sonnhalter, CCLS – Child Life Manager
  • Allison Bahar, CCLS
  • Katie Bates, CCLS

Shannon Sonnhalter
Child Life Services
9500 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44195
Phone: 216.444.3165

Child Life Specialists use a variety of techniques to help young patients understand and cope with their medical experiences. Our services are provided at no charge to pediatric patients and their families. During your child's stay, you and your child have access to a wide range of activities.

Pediatric patients and parents may seek our Child Life Specialists to provide guidance for some of the following medical experiences:

  • Behavioral modification programs to encourage success with a new medical regimen
  • Chronic Illness
  • Emotional support provided during your child’s medical procedure(s)
  • Preparing your child for surgery, specific tests or procedures
  • Providing education for a new diagnosis tailored to your child’s developmental age/level
  • Providing support to siblings and other family members
  • Traumatic accident